Alvin ISD Teacher’s Impact Felt Halfway Across the World

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“It all started about seven years ago.”


 
That’s when Melissa Watkins’ 6th grade class at Harby Junior High School began a penpals relationship with a class of students from Uganda, Africa. In 2012, that relationship turned into something more.


 
“On Christmas Eve, I got a personal letter from the teacher wishing me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hoping that my holiday break was going well and then, also, to tell me of some bad news that they had. That the one and only restroom for their school of 650 kids had collapsed in a flood from Lake Victoria.”


 
Her students at Harby felt they could help.


 
“I was told by a 6th grader that I need to email the teacher and I needed to find out exactly what it was going to take to build the restroom. I mean how are we going to do that? We live here and they live there? My student says, ‘My dad is a contractor. He says they can give you an itemized list of how much everything is going to cost and how much labor is going to cost and that’s what our goal needs to be.’ I emailed her and she sent me the list and that was our goal.”


 
With plenty of fundraisers, the goal was reached, and they were able to assist the Ugandan school. Last year, that school had their water well quit giving water and Harby students stepped up again to give a helping hand.


 
“It’s overwhelming. It really is. I never imagined when I started teaching 6th grade social studies and we were going to write letters to kids in other countries that this is what it was going to become.” With emotion in her voice, Watkins says, “They’re 11 and 12 and they just push, and push, and push me to places that I don’t necessarily want to go. I’m just trying to teach my class and they want to make sure that it happens, and so I’m proud to say that I’ve done that for them and I’ve helped instill this sense of empathy in and 11 or 12-year-old kid that normally doesn’t have that kind of empathy.”


 
Now, Melissa will be taking her first trip to Uganda during Spring Break 2019. She’ll be bringing much needed hygiene supplies, including hundreds of toothbrushes, many of them, the first ones the Uganda students have ever had.


 
“It’s going to be a very different experience to get there and go for the first time and see the restroom that we’ve built, go see the garden plot of land that we’ve paid for so that they can grow fruits and vegetables for the kids for their meals at the school. Go see and actually use the pump and the well and see how difficult it actually is to get the water up from the ground.”


 
She’ll be in Uganda for a week and will get the chance to teach those students.


 
“I want to teach them Deep in the Heart of Texas because I think it will be really cool and kind of easy for them. They only have o remember one line!”


 
Melissa is going to share her Spring Break experience with her students and as a 6th grade social studies department, they’re going to use her trip as an intro to sub-Saharan Africa.


 
“We’ve written to a lot of countries and Uganda has just been the one to answer steadily every year. We know each other’s school schedules now, and so when it’s getting mid-July and beginning of August, she’ll email me saying once you find out how many students you have, let me know and we’ll get this set up and get the emails started. Now that she’s retired, the principal has taken over that job and I think everybody is very eager to keep this going.”